First UNHCR airlift arrives in Georgia as uprooted numbers rise
GENEVA, August 12 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency's first airlift arrived in Georgia this morning with 34 tonnes of emergency aid for people affected by the conflict in South Ossetia. This comes amid reports that some 100,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting.
A UNHCR-chartered Boeing 707 cargo plane landed in Tbilisi airport in the Georgian capital at 11.45 am local time on Tuesday, carrying tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchens sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. It was the first UN humanitarian flight to reach Georgia since fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia broke out last week, said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
A second UNHCR flight is set to leave on Wednesday from the agency's central logistics hub in Copenhagen. Together, the two flights will provide more than 70 tonnes of aid supplies for up to 30,000 people, supplementing other relief items already distributed by UNHCR from its warehouses in Georgia.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres gave the green light on Monday to release US$2 million from UNHCR's emergency reserve to cover additional needs such as extra staff deployment and to bolster its aid stockpiles in the Caucasus region. He reiterated his call for humanitarian access and safe passage, and offered relief assistance to both Russia and Georgia.
Government sources suggest that some 100,000 people have been uprooted by the ongoing conflict. Up to 12,000 people could be displaced within South Ossetia, say local authorities. Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate that there are some 30,000 people from South Ossetia now in the Russian Federation. Georgian authorities report that several thousand people have fled from South Ossetia into Georgia proper.
There are also reports of population movements within Georgia proper. In Gori, just south of South Ossetia, local officials told a visiting UNHCR team on Sunday that up to 80 percent of the population - some 56,000 people - had left. They said most had gone towards Tbilisi but would return once the threat eased.